Why and how to craft an internal comms crisis plan

When disaster or a seismic change hits your organization, your first thought might be to calm customers, but don’t overlook your staff. They need reassurance—and can help with messaging.

When something unexpected happens at an organization, its leaders rush to calm customers.

They send out strategic emails, work closely with PR and legal teams, and do all they can to mitigate the crisis—but are company leaders doing enough to communicate with employees?

Whether something goes awry within your company (for example, your CEO resigns) or outwardly with your customers (a security breach, perhaps), communicating with employees should be a top priority. In a crisis, you need your employees lending support.

You must address the fears of your team members, assure them you will move forward together, and give them the tools they need to communicate with their families, customers and one another.

A company crisis can take many forms, such as:

  • Changes in leadership (e.g., a CEO resigns or is ousted)
  • Security breaches
  • Product problems
  • Lawsuits, employee misconduct, civil rights violations
  • Damaging media coverage
  • Death or injury of employees
  • Changes in ownership (e.g., company sold to another company)
  • Substantial layoffs or changes in organization’s structure

You must have a plan in place before a crisis hits.

Duke University shares its crisis communication plan on its website. This document outlines procedures, who will be in charge and where the crisis committee will meet. Should an emergency occur, the team at Duke will be ready to execute the plan.

Identify your employees’ chief concerns.

Although you want to handle a crisis immediately, you must understand your employees’ greatest concerns. They might wonder:

  • Is this going to affect my job? Might I get laid off?
  • How are customers reacting to this?
  • What should I tell my family?
  • How should I discuss this with my direct reports?
  • Are there immediate changes I should know about?
  • If I have more questions, whom can I ask?

Each crisis is different, so consider the nuances as you implement your plan. The protocol for an internal crisis might look a lot different from one that affects customers or stockholders.

When sending out company communications, address the specifics of the crisis, rather than sending out a vague, prefab email. The more details you offer, the calmer your employees will feel. Target your messages to the right groups; managers should receive different info from what their reports get, for example.

Give employees guidelines on how to communicate.

When something goes wrong, employees will be asked questions by customers and direct reports, as well as family and friends. It’s your job to equip them with the words to use in these situations. After all, your employees act as your messaging “boots on the ground.”

Provide example scripts for employees to use with customers. No matter what, make sure you give employees the tools they need to talk about the crisis in any context.

Encourage open discussion.

Although the uncertainty of a crisis can make it difficult to talk about, it’s important that your employees feel they can give feedback and ask questions and that they can discuss their concerns with their managers.

To accomplish this, encourage managers to go to their employees, hold open forums with company leaders and send out surveys to gauge employee sentiment.

In general, communicating should be a priority at your organization, no matter how many employees you have. Keeping everyone on the same page makes it easier to weather a crisis.

G.I. Sanders is the director of marketing for Dynamic Signal. A version of this post first appeared on Dynamic Signal’s blog.


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